When a plant is showing its first true leaf, that’s the definition of a microgreen. Often, this means the plant is one to two inches in length, but that isn’t consistently true because the actual sizes of microgreens vary from plant to plant, relative to the size of a full-grown version.
Here’s another way to look at the definition. When a seed-bearing plant first has an embryonic leaf, that’s known as a cotyledon leaf. At this point, the parsley looks like a basil leaf, which looks like a squash leaf, which looks like an arugula leaf. Suddenly, though, the parsley leaf is clearly a parsley leaf – and then that plant has officially moved into the microgreen stage. It will be tender, flavorful and chock full of nutrients. At The Chef’s Garden, we harvest a percentage of our plants at this stage of growth, allowing others to continue to grow into the next stages: petite, ultra, baby and young – and sometimes beyond, to buds and blooms.
When cooks and chefs first see a microgreen, a natural response is that it would make a great garnish. And, they do! But, they are so much more than that. Garnishes accent your dishes, giving them an extra pop of flavor, while microgreens really serve as an extension of your dish as you build incredible layers of flavor.
People eat with their eyes first, and this is especially true when they choose to dine away from home. In an article by ArtInstitutes.edu, here are some relevant quotes:
Executive Chef Jamie Simpson from the Culinary Vegetable Institute likes to think of choosing produce size as selecting your brushstroke. When making your choice, he suggests that you ask yourself the following questions:
Jamie likes to imagine a dish as having unfilled geometric forms, and then he envisions which products can fill in those shapes. Having fresh vegetables of all sizes available to you allows you to create what you visualize, in the colors, shapes and sizes desired.
Because the microgreens from The Chef’s Garden are so rich in flavor, less truly can be more. “You can add three or four individual leaves and sprouts,” Jamie says, “to get multiple benefits in balance, texture and color, along with the most important factor: flavor.”
Jamie remembers the very first time he ever saw a microgreen, a sprouted seed of fennel. This was back when he was working at the Charleston Grill in South Carolina – and the microgreen came from The Chef’s Garden. He calls this experience a “magical moment.” He hadn’t realized such miniature choices existed for his dishes and, although he doesn’t use microgreens in every dish he creates at the Culinary Vegetable Institute, he says there isn’t one single dish that couldn’t include them.
“I love how microgreens are so consistent,” he adds. “They come straight from the farm with no prep required. Kale is kale, sunflower is sunflower, broccoli is broccoli, perfect little representations of what they are.”
What’s interesting is that, although microgreens are incredibly consistent, they are also extremely versatile. As just one example, you can use them to lighten up dishes that would otherwise be too dark and/or heavy. Conversely, they can add rich and robust flavors to balance out lighter dishes.
People like to ask Jamie which microgreen is his favorite one, now that he has access to all The Chef’s Garden has to offer. Here is his response:
Jamie likes to dress microgreens lightly with emulsion such as sunflower or olive oil. “That,” he says, “always adds interest to the plate. Plus, I use them when I need a little bit of salt and pepper, an accent in a certain direction.”
Microgreens add incredible flavor to salads, soups, stews, pizzas, egg dishes, potato dishes, sandwiches, pasta dishes – and anywhere else your imagination takes you.
If you’re looking for a way to creatively add fresh flavor to cocktails and mocktails, then microgreens are the way to go. You can add fresh basil or sage, fresh mint or sorrel – or our signature cukes with blooms. Microgreens add so much pizazz to cocktails and mocktails that, as part of our Roots 2017 culinary conference (with a theme of Innovation), we offered this presentation: Drink Your Veggies: Fresh Ideas for Vegetable Beverages.
You can see our coverage of this presentation on our blog.
And, while we know that adding fresh greens and herbs in cocktails and mocktails is a growing trend in the United States, a 2015 article from TheGuardian.com shares how veggies in drinks is also a trend in the United Kingdom. Specifically, “They were once staple items on the traditional British dinner plate, often derided and just as often overcooked. But now the thriving trend for fresh vegetables in liquid form – in juices and smoothies – is taking an unusual new twist and shifting into alcoholic drinks, as quintessentially British garden flavours such as pea, parsnip, mushroom and even celeriac are making their debut in cocktails served in the UK’s most fashionable bars and restaurants.”
In February 2017, Medical News Today took a look at health benefits of microgreens and cited a study from the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry that shows how “microgreens do contain a higher concentration of many nutrients when compared with the mature, fully grown vegetables or herbs.” More specifically, Medical News Today shares, microgreens have high levels of:
Because of the high levels of antioxidants, microgreens are “considered a functional food, a food that promotes health or prevents disease.”
The article cites another study on microgreens’ nutrition, one conducted by the Department of Nutrition and Food Science at the University of Maryland, published in 2012. When 25 microgreens were studied, not surprisingly, micronutrients varied by type. Researchers then identified four that featured the highest concentrations of four vitamins and carotenoids. They are:
Microgreens, Medical News Today concludes, “can boost color, enhance flavor, and add texture to any dish, while delivering a nutritional boost as well.”
Experts in a WebMD.com article, including Qin Wang, PhD, from the University of Maryland, share their thoughts about this 2012 microgreens’ nutrition study. Wang says, “The microgreens were four- to 40-fold more concentrated with nutrients than their mature counterparts . . . When we first got the results we had to rush to double and triple check them.”
Gene Lester, PhD, from the USDA adds that nutrients provided by microgreens are “extremely important for skin, eyes, and fighting cancer and have all sorts of benefits associated with them.” Although he admits being astonished when he first learned that nutrients were sometimes even four to six times more concentrated in microgreens than in mature plants, he now believes there is a good explanation.
“Because microgreens are harvested right after germination, all the nutrients they need to grow are there,” says Wang. “If they are harvested at the right time they are very concentrated with nutrients, and the flavor and texture is also good.”
An in-depth article in Mother Nature Network provides nine recommendations for flavorful microgreens that pack a nutritional punch. We suggest that you read the entire article – and we’ll highlight just a few in our post.
At the top of their list are arugula microgreens. From a health standpoint, this luscious microgreen “contains glucosinolates (GSLs), ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and phenols that are believed to help fend off toxins and stave off environmental stress,” according to the adjunct professor of nutrition being quoted.
Next is basil, “rich in polyphenols that drive gut health and general good health by reducing oxidation and inflammation,” according to a scientist who specializes in inflammation research.
Also on their list is the “superfood” known as kale, “a vitamin C powerhouse.” Pea shoots (we call them pea tendrils!) provide “seven times the vitamin C of blueberries and eight times the folic acid of bean sprouts” – and, if you want even more news about microgreens’ health benefits, there is plenty more information in the article.
When people first use microgreens, as we mentioned early on, it isn’t unusual for them to start out their usage as a garnish. And, microgreens certainly CAN be used that way. But saying that microgreens ARE garnishes is a lot like saying Christmas is the season when you get to bring a tree indoors without people looking at you funny.
Here’s the bottom line: microgreens are so much more than a garnish. We’ve been providing them to the best chefs in the country for more than 25 years now. We believe we were one of the very first farms to grow them, and we began doing so through our partnership with a legendary chef – Charlie Trotter.
Which ones are you incorporating into your menus?
Here is what TheKitchn.com says about our microgreen farming:
“The Chef's Garden is a company that has mastered the drama of vegetables. On my recent visit to this utterly unique Ohio farm, spectacles of vegetables and herbs paraded by. Some of these were tableaux constructed for our benefit, as our hosts led us to tables bristling with parsnips' tails and striped beets and placed sheafs of brilliant miniature herbs in our hands.
“Others were simply part of the landscape: I saw petite fields of tiny greens, bare days old and vibrant as golf course grass, sheared in handfuls by careful workers. I saw popcorn shoots smaller than my pinkie, growing pale banana yellow in a pitch-black greenhouse.”
To ensure you get only the best microgreens – those at the peak of flavor and packed with the most nutrients – we don’t harvest a microgreen until a chef orders it. We then gently hand harvest the order, usually with scissors, then cool them before packing them specifically for the chef who ordered them. We ship them overnight, from our farm door to your restaurant’s kitchen door. In Northern Ohio, these microgreens could be in your diners’ dishes in less than 12 hours. For the rest of the United States? In as little as 24 hours.
We make it easy to order, too. Simply check our current availability and then click on the products you need for your dishes. In the “Size” scrollbar, choose the size you want! Or contact your product specialist online today for our exceptional Bowtie Service.